4/18/2012 8:26 PM | Minna Salminen Karlsson

India and Sweden: two extremes in grading

Most Swedes in their twenties and thirties never got grades at school until they were teenagers. In India working for grades and exams starts from year one.

Feedback obviously is one of the cultural differences between Sweden and India. It becomes very obvious when you discuss the school system. The fact that most of those Swedes in their twenties and thirties who work with offshoring have been educated in a school system where it actually was forbidden to give grades until year 8 (when they were about 13-14), gives a hint of the differences. The Swedish idea is that getting bad grades makes kids depressed and uninspired to work, in particular because kids tend to compare grades and so get to know if they are inferior to somebody else in a particular subject. So different from the Indian system, where hard working for exams starts from year one. And in India the open personal ratings continue even in the working life – in my last hotel the slip asking me to rate their services also contained a box where I could write down a name if somebody had been particularly helpful. Never expect that at a Swedish hotel.

The scoreboard in the company I was visiting, where the grades (1-10) that every client gives to every team (even when it only consists of one person) were posted, was very exotic to my eyes who this far only have seen Swedish companies. The idea of being rated by a client and having your grades posted for everyone at the office to see, on a regular basis, is very foreign to the kind of people who have learnt that direct criticism and in particular being compared to others is not good for your psychological well-being. Regular assessments where you actually are confronted with how clients have rated you and which in a much more direct way than is the case in Sweden affect your salary is something that Swedes are not used to.

Thus, one reason why Swedes can be restrictive with both their criticism and their appreciation is that they simply don’t understand the importance of those messages in the context of the Indian employees. If a Swede is satisfied with somebody’s work, he just might tell that person his appreciation. But he has no direct habit of also informing the person’s manager about this appreciation. And if he is dissatisfied, he may be very careful in how he puts the issue. This is quite frustrating in a culture where a normal way of thinking is that it’s only by receiving feedback about your shortcomings that you can develop and improve.  That’s not normal in the Swedish mindset - our shcools have largely been based on the ideology that getting direct criticism or discovering that you are inferior to somebody else is not good for your emotional well-being . Thus, our different trainings in giving and taking direct feedback, but also in using feedback, is one of the larger stumbling stones when it comes to working in common projects.